Improving education through assessment, innovation, and evaluation
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How is progress toward educational goals, both local and global, measured? Although assessment is most often seen as a tool to measure the progress of a single student, it also allows individuals, communities, and countries to track the quality of schools and educational systems. In theory, publicly available data enable policymakers to craft effective policies and students and parents to better choose among educational options. As Henry Braun and Anil Kanjee note, the potential benefits of assessment are not easy to capture, as they must overcome a number of significant implementation challenges and political and financial obstacles. The authors review promising national and international efforts and offer recommendations for creating and implementing assessments in developing countries.
Testing offers a means to track the outcomes of schools and educational systems. But how can education reformers identify the practices that led to improved or worsened outcomes? There are countless and complex factors at work even within a single classroom. Deciding whether an educational innovation is responsible for a change in student outcomes is difficult at best, yet essential for efficiently implementing the most effective educational programs.
As Eric Bettinger and Michael Kremer each discuss, one reliable means of evaluating the effects of a program or intervention-namely, randomized controlled experimentation-is now finding use in education. These experiments make possible valid comparisons among pedagogical techniques and systems of management because randomization establishes equivalent participant and non-participant groups for comparison. Randomized controlled experiments can, therefore, produce the most credible evaluation of programs, including their cost-effectiveness. Bettinger explains why experiments such as that used to study the school-based health program remain underutilized though they provide highly credible results. Kremer reviews the findings from randomized evaluations to determine low-cost means of increasing enrollment. As the research of these authors makes clear, with more reliable information from such experiments, education reformers can focus efforts and resources on the programs that have been found to be most effective.